Why Designating Putin’s Russia as a ‘Terrorist State’ Might Backfire


Long-range missiles and heavy weapons may be the key to breaking the Russian military’s back in Ukraine, but is blackballing Vladimir Putin’s regime as a terrorist state also an essential step in putting Vladimir Putin in step?

For months, Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy has been urging the world to deepen Russia’s isolation by labeling it a “terrorist”, relegating it to the ranks of the rogue states of North Korea, Iran and Syria.

The US Senate is on board and has urged the State Department and the Biden administration to act. Five former communist countries have also done so. And the issue resurfaced this week with the European Parliament and lawmakers from NATO countries passing resolutions urging their respective governments to get on board.

The toxic label of “terrorist”, which has no agreed definition in international law, nonetheless serves as a symbolic rebuke to any existing Russian claim to be a respected and law-abiding member of the international community. But being so marked also has practical implications.

The European Parliament resolution calls on countries to end all cooperation with Russia, freeze contacts with Russian officials, expel ambassadors and introduce economic and diplomatic restrictions against the country or any state that maintains contact with Russia. Russia.

“My view is that for this war to end, we have to be tough,” said Charlie Weimer, a Swedish member of the European Parliament who helped draft the EU resolution, from Strasbourg, France.

“We must do whatever it takes to minimize the Russian war effort.”

Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland and the Czech Republic have already designated Putin’s Russia as a terrorist state or sponsor of terrorism due to the invasion of Ukraine and attacks on civilian infrastructure. Some motions, like those from Lithuania and Latvia, referenced other controversial incidents, including Russia’s military support for Syria, its brutal crackdown on Chechen rebels and the attempted poisoning of the former spy. Sergei Skripal and his daughter in London – an attack attributed to Russian military intelligence agents.

The Baltic states, which share borders with Russia, have used the list to justify freezing EU visas for Russian citizens, while Lithuanian lawmakers are reportedly considering new measures to ban companies from doing business with the country. Russia or the Russians.

The United States has officially designated Syria, Iran, North Korea and Cuba as “State Sponsors of Terrorism” – a designation that comes with a ban on foreign aid, defense exports, economic sanctions and a waiver of state immunity, meaning that successful lawsuits brought in US court could be settled by selling the seized assets.

But when asked if he would consider designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, US President Joe Biden’s response was short and blunt: “No”.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in October the designation could make it more difficult to get humanitarian aid to Ukraine and more difficult to get Ukrainian grain – an export vital to the war-shattered country’s economy – to the world.

Despite repeated calls from the Ukrainian government to take such a step, Jean-Pierre added: “We believe that this could limit Mr. Zelenskyy’s flexibility at the negotiating table if and when it comes to this point”.

It is indeed complicated to negotiate anything with a terrorist entity, peace all the more so.

Under former US President Barack Obama, a deal was struck to suspend Iran’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. But the deal was scrapped by then-President Donald Trump, and efforts to strike a new deal have so far been unsuccessful due to Tehran’s crackdown on protesters and its military support for the Russia in Ukraine.

Trump has also sought to broker a nuclear deal with North Korean President Kim Jong-un. In 2019, Trump became the first US leader to set foot on North Korean territory as he sought to forge a deal with his counterpart.

“Crossing that line was a great honor,” he said at the time.

But the deal was never done, and to this day North Korea has assumed the role of rogue regime, putting its Asian neighbors on high alert with unannounced ballistic missile tests and explosive threats.

International Crisis Group, an independent organization that monitors conflicts and provides policy advice, warned in August that a move by the United States to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism would be a dangerous and short-sighted move.

In addition to hampering a possible peace agreement with Kyiv or complicating humanitarian aid deliveries to Ukraine, the listing could prevent Washington and Moscow from working together on global crises unrelated to the conflict, or in forums such as the UN Security Council.

It could also jeopardize efforts to free US political prisoners Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner from Russian prisons.

And that is unlikely to change the course of the war, the organization concluded.

If sanctions, war crimes investigations and international condemnation did not sway Putin during the first nine months of the war, “it is hard to imagine that this list of terrorism will be the straw that will ultimately shatter Moscow’s resolve to continue waging war.”

Under Canada’s State Immunity Act, the government has the power to place countries on the list of “state sponsors of terrorism” if they are deemed to have provided support to a designated terrorist organization. Only two countries – Iran and Syria – have been so listed and, as such, can be sued in Canadian courts by victims of terrorism.

When the designation was announced, in September 2012, then Foreign Secretary John Baird cited Iran’s human rights record; its safe harbor and material support to Hezbollah, a listed terrorist group; the Iranian regime’s support for the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in that country’s civil war; his threats against Israel; and its failure to comply with UN resolutions to end its nuclear enrichment program.

Canada gave Iranian diplomats in Canada five days to leave the country and closed the Canadian embassy in Tehran. Canada expelled Syrian diplomats from Canada in May 2012 to protest a massacre of more than 100 civilians in the Houla region.

But Canada has designated only one pro-Russian group — the neo-Nazi, paramilitary Imperial Russian Movement — as a terrorist entity.

“There are also other Russian-sponsored organizations that engage in terrorism that we just haven’t named and shouldn’t be an excuse,” says Orest Zakydalsky, senior political adviser to the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

European lawmakers and advocates are following Estonia’s lead in pushing for private Russian military company Wagner Group, run by Putin ally Yevgeny Prigozhin, to be designated as a terrorist group because of its actions in Ukraine. in Syria and in several African conflicts, notably the Central African Republic.

Zakydalsky argued that the breakaway Ukrainian territories of Luhansk and Donetsk, which Russia recognized as sovereign states and later annexed, should also be designated as terrorist organizations.

“The mere fact that we haven’t designated them as such should not be used as an excuse to take this step,” he said.

In practice, this could allow Ukrainians, like the thousands who have been accepted into Canada as war refugees, to sue Russia and seek financial compensation in Canadian courts.

The Trudeau government has not commented on whether, in addition to economic sanctions, it is in favor of applying this additional means of pressure against Moscow. But the resolution adopted Monday at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly — and supported by Canadian MPs and senators — could force the government to think about it more deeply.

The resolution was short, crisp and declarative, calling on the governments of all 30 member states “to clearly declare that the Russian state under the current regime is a terrorist state”.

“The Canadian delegation was there and we voted in favor of this resolution,” said Toronto Liberal MP Julie Dzerowicz, who heads the Canadian delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

She acknowledged that there was no internationally agreed definition of what constitutes terrorism, but argued that Russia’s listing was deserved because of the savage attacks on Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure as cold weather was coming.

“They very deliberately target civilian infrastructure like hospitals, schools and other medical facilities,” she said upon returning to Ottawa. “They also directly target power plants and water supplies. If you talk to Ukrainians, they go further and say it’s genocide.

She intends to report to the government, but admitted that whether or not to list Russia as a supporter of terrorism is a decision above her pay grade.

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress, for its part, still holds out hope that the Trudeau government will answer the call, if only because its recommendation has never been explicitly rejected.

But Canada’s silence on the issue is infuriating, Zakydalsky said.

“What else would the Russians have to do?” He asked. “It’s kind of hard for me to find a level of brutality that they didn’t indulge in, and what’s the difference between what Russia did and what Syria or Iran did.

“All three do the same thing,” he said. “Why two of them are terrorists and one is not?”

Allan Woods is a reporter in Montreal for the Star. It covers global and domestic affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @WoodsAllan

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